For decades, physical punishment has been viewed by many as a perfectly acceptable and standard means of discipline. However, there has always been strong opposition to it which has recently been reflected legally in many countries worldwide. For example, in the UK it is illegal to hit your child hard enough to leave a mark.
Advocates of smacking insist that, if it is practiced in a controlled and measured way, that it sends a strong message to the child about behaviour that is unacceptable. Many parents do not spank or smack their children unless their child has exhibited behaviour that they feel is ‘crossing the line’ — such as running off in the street, or being physically violent towards their parents or peers.
Personally, the thought of smacking my child makes me feel sick to my stomach and I don’t understand why anybody could honestly think that it is a valid method of discipline.
Once, at a mum and baby group, I witnessed a parent whack her toddler because the toddler had hit another child. She insisted afterwards that she feels it’s the only way to ‘show him what he’s done’. I beg to differ. For a start, children (especially younger ones) do not hit out of malice. They hit out of frustration and anger — both of which are normal, healthy emotions. By reprimanding him so severely without giving him an alternative ‘exit’ for his feelings, she is simply teaching him that his feelings are wrong, and that they shouldn’t be expressed. Surely a more constructive way of dealing with hitting would be something like this — “No, it is not okay to hit other people. Hitting other people makes them sad. I understand that you are angry and frustrated; here, bang this drum/hit this pillow/kick this ball instead to help you feel better”.
And besides, doesn’t this whole situation smack of hypocrisy? Children look up to their parents; they want to please them and emulate them. By using violence to correct violence, one is simply teaching their child that hitting IS okay — as long as the person you are hitting ‘deserves’ it. Hardly a solid life lesson. Your parents are the ones who are supposed to keep you safe and secure; how are you supposed to trust someone who is willing to use physical violence towards you in order to ‘teach you a lesson’? The mind boggles.
No matter what the reason for hitting is, it is plain disrespectful to children. If adults use physical violence against one another, it is punishable by law, however much the perpetrator insists that the victim ‘deserved’ it. Children are human beings too; they deserve to be treated with the same respect as an adult. In fact, they should probably be respected to a higher level, considering the fact that in 99% of situations, these ‘bad’ behaviours can be directly attributed to confusing feelings, sadness, tiredness, boredom, excitement and a myriad of other perfectly normal and natural feelings. In order to raise empathetic, happy little people, we must make an effort to discover the root cause of the inappropriate behaviour, rather than beating it into submission. This isn’t about permissive parenting; far from it. It takes creativity, imagination and a boatload of patience to find effective and respectful ways of disciplining our children.
I normally do everything I can to see things from every side of the argument, but this is one thing I just feel too strongly about to even entertain the idea that smacking may have benefits (it doesn’t). Hitting children is wrong; it’s disrespectful, abusive and pointless.
Many parents have felt pushed to smack when under pressure. When the baby is screaming, you haven’t slept for a week, you’re trying to change your toddler’s nappy and they will not stop kicking… it is easy to see how even the most conscientious and gentle of parents can snap; these are not the parents I am talking about in this article. A moment of madness is one thing — actively choosing to be violent to your child, who was made with love within your body or that of your partners, is a completely different matter.